OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- The state House unanimously approved a measure to require better notification of citizens before their property is condemned for a public purpose through eminent domain.
The Senate passed a similar measure earlier this session. Leaders will now have to decide which bill to send to Gov. Chris Gregoire. The measure has strong bipartisan support, with Gregoire and Attorney General Rob McKenna jointly requesting it.
"A person's right to property can't be taken lightly and should only be done when absolutely necessary," said Rep. Kevin Van De Wege D-Sequim, the bill's sponsor, in a news release Wednesday. "Better notification will increase the integrity of this process."
The measure evolved in reaction to a state Supreme Court decision involving Barbara and Ken Miller, whose property in south Tacoma was condemned by Sound Transit to make way for a parking lot for a train station.
Sound Transit posted a notice on its Web site of the meeting where the condemnation action would be taken. The Millers never saw the Web site notice, and appealed. But the state Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Web site posting satisfied the notice requirement.
The bill would require state agencies, cities and counties, school districts and other government entities to send certified letters to property owners before voting to take their property. It would also require publication of advance notice of the meeting in the largest area newspaper.
Despite unanimous approval, Deputy Minority Leader Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said the measure doesn't go far enough to protect property owners in the wake of the 2005 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a Connecticut case, Kelo v. City of New London. In that case, the court ruled that a government agency could condemn private property for private developments.
"It's a notification bill," Ericksen said. "It doesn't protect private property, it doesn't protect the people of Washington state from Kelo-type takings."
Rep. Geoff Simpson, D-Covington, said the government must pay property owners before condemning private land for eminent domain purposes.
"This is a very important step in notifying people before the government actually has to provide fair market compensation for property," Simpson said. "That's an important distinction to make."